RCMP standardizes on ruggedized notebook line

The Canadian subsidiary of a U.S. mobile computer manufacturer has inked a three-year exclusive agreement with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to deploy over 1,000 ruggedized notebooks across all levels in Canada.

Itronix Canada

Ltd., a newly-formed subsidiary of Spokane, Wash.-based Itronix Corp., signed a national individual standing offer with the Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) department on behalf of the RCMP in February. Organizations like the RCMP make up Itronix’s largest user group, which it calls “first responders.” This group includes police, EMS and fire with police making up the bulk of sales.

Under the terms of the contract Itronix Canada will replace existing Panasonic laptops used by general duty police at municipal, provincial and federal levels with 1,500 GoBook III ruggedized laptops over the next three years. To date, Itronix has deployed 420 GoBooks with an additional 200 on order. The machines cost approximately $5,000 each, according to the company.

Itronix Canada announced the deal Tuesday in conjunction with the official opening of its Canadian headquarters in Mississauga, Ont.

Raymond St-Jean, senior systems engineer for the RCMP, said the RCMP went to the PWGSC because it wanted to standardize on a single hardware platform for the next three to five years.

“(Itronix) is replacing older Panasonics that are not able to support our new records management system (RMS) application,” said St-Jean, adding the RCMP is in the midst of rolling out an RMS application that officers are starting to use to enter information at the scene, saving time on paper work back at the station. “Older Panasonics don’t have enough memory or CPU power to support the application.”

With wireless capability built into the notebooks, officers will be able to wirelessly send reports back to the station from the field. In addition to electronic dispatching capabilities, the laptops are also equipped with mapping and routing features that tell the user where he is going and what the best way to get there is, including up-to-the-minute traffic updates.

Itronix, which makes wireless, rugged mobile systems, also announced that it has selected former Symbol Technologies Inc. executive Susan Craven as Canadian general manager of Itronix Canada Ltd. Itronix currently has three other subsidiary offices in the U.K., Germany and France. Itronix Canada also plans to launch a Canadian Web site by quarter end, which closes at the end of this month.

“It’s key that you understand your customer’s business so that you can understand how your product fits into their environment,” said Craven, who, prior to taking up her current post last September, had worked with Itronix president and CEO Tom Turner. “When (a mobile worker) is carrying something around it’s going to be dropped, it’s going to be knocked and kicked around a bit.”

The 2,800 sq. ft. Mississauga office, which has three employees, including Craven, who, prior to her current role held various sales and business development positions at Symbol, will serve as the main hub for sales, service and support to Canadian customers. Itronix Canada has a satellite office in Ottawa with one sales associate. The Canadian subsidiary will be hiring more technicians for its Mississauga facility over the next few months.

While Itronix Canada admits it’s not as big as Panasonic yet, Craven said the subsidiary’s business is growing at a good pace. The company also has a contract with the Department of National Defence (DND), which purchased 500 GoBook III notebooks that will be deployed at six bases across Canada by year-end.

“We’ve gone from zero to 60 in under ten seconds,” said Craven. “We’re growing our business through our associates. We’re going to command our share in the marketplace through customer service.”

Instead of having regional service centres across the company, Itronix Canada will courier systems to its Mississauga location for technical support.

St-Jean said local support and service was one of the main reasons the RCMP chose Itronix for the project.

“The fewer things we need to ship across the border the better,” said St-Jean. “That definitely is a huge advantage that we can deal with Canadians. Return to manufacturer now becomes a lot simpler for us.”

St-Jean said ruggedized notebooks have many advantages over commercial-grade devices, including environmental exposure and shock absorption.

“Vancouver or Victoria temperatures are a little warmer than in Prince George or Fort McMurray in the winter,” said St-Jean. “The device has to be able to serve in those various temperature ranges.”

St-Jean said the machine also has to be able to sustain a certain amount of vibrations while operating. Other important features include a slightly brighter screen for daylight use and a backlit keyboard for operations where an officer doesn’t want to reveal himself.

St-Jean added docking stations are also an important consideration when looking at laptops for use in command centres and especially cars. Commercial grade laptops typically have a plastic docking station, which are not durable enough in a car, said St-Jean. Vehicle manufacturers also require officers to install laptops in the safest place possible, which is normally between the two front seats.

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